Because many voices in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) are afraid to discuss issues that matter for fear of coming across as negative or unsupportive of its current President, Arthur Peter Mutharika, the DPP is marching forth to 2019 presidential elections with its head buried firmly in the sand about the Candidacy crisis on its hands. To those that care about the DPP, though, and even to those that care not about the DPP but rather MCP or any other party for that matter, it is always important not lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal in an election is to secure victory and success for whichever political party and presidential candidate with whom one sympathises.
With this in mind, I will endeavour in the coming weeks to offer tidbits of free advice and analysis for the political parties as to what sort of candidacy considerations they might wish to take on beard to give themselves the best chances. I must give this warning at the outset, though, that in this regard I cannot afford to be sentimental, and my views will be on the basis of sound and sober analysis, and will lead only to conclusions where logical scrutiny and examination takes us. This week I am looking at the DPP.
One of the most obvious points blatantly in the face of everyone and yet not easily discussed within DPP circles is whether President Peter Mutharika, at his age and having had such a dreadful first term, should run again. This is the obvious elephant in the room that no-one is ready to point out. It is a classic case of the Emperor’s new clothes. The Emperor is naked and exposed, but fear of reprisals is preventing his advisors from telling him so, and in the process exposing him to shame and public ridicule. Yet it is most crucial at this point to examine this issue and discuss what really would be the best candidacy scenario for the DPP. Shunning away from this question simply underlines the weaknesses our political spaces, especially when things are this obvious.
Mutharika’s closest cronies are obviously reassuring him that it should be a simple foregone conclusion that he must run again in 2019. In my uncommon sense, however, I submit that Mutharika’s cronies and buddies are probably wrong, and that there may be some important considerations to take on board before this becomes the DPP’s firm position.
First and foremost, we all must not shy away from accepting that Mutharika’s advanced age means that the DPP is taking a risk similar to 2009, and should nature decide to take a diverse turn, the DPP could end up in a scenario similar to 2012 when late Bingu passed on leaving the party in a quandary. Even if it were for this reason, it would still be crucially important that one of the DPP’s main considerations for the 2019 candidacy should be aimed at protecting their party from undesirable predicaments should such an eventuality occur. Yet this is not even the only reason, and a sober examination of whether APM should indeed be the candidate, and if so, who should be his running mate is certainly called for.
Assuming that APM would win and even finish his term, the question of running mate still remains an important one because of electoral dynamics and the voter patterns that are always at play in Malawian elections.
Perhaps the only advantage of having APM as the candidate is the convenience to the DPP in avoiding the trouble of selecting a new candidate. It is an exercise in continuity and comes with its obvious advantages of having a well-established leader who, it is argued, already commands the loyalty of the entirety of the party, and avoids the formation of cliques that often come with changes in leadership. Yet falling for this continuity temptation fast and hard without first fully considering other options has in history led to many a political tragedy.
There are several disadvantages about this idea that must be carefully weighed against the above advantage.
The first disadvantage, as I have already alluded to, is Mutharika’s age. This is an issue that must be carefully pondered, especially when considered alongside the issue of who his running mate might be. With APM as candidate, and current Vice President seemingly out of favour, the DPP finds itself in a dilemma of having to pick a running mate who is also from the southern region to maintain their so-called Southern Region because it cannot find a loyal enough running mate from the Central or Northern Regions who can be trusted to maintain party legacy in the event of the above referred to eventuality. Of course with a younger southerner bearing the party’s torch in 2019, any running mate can do….
There are other considerations in favour of having a different candidate than Peter Mutharika for the DPP. If Mutharika decides or is persuaded not to run in 2019, the DPP’s electoral campaign narrative changes dramatically, making the party’s position somewhat stronger. This is because with a younger, different candidate, the DPP regains the moral high ground against the main opposition MCP, throwing the MCP campaign narrative out of whack as in all its preparations the MCP has been planning for a fight against Mutharika.
This option gives the DPP the best chance at winning because of the fresh credible campaign narrative, and also ensures the sustainability of the party in the long term.
There are sentiments in some DPP members and supporters that the DPP with Mutharika as its presidential candidate can come out victorious in the 2019 without a need for some radical thinking and bold strategies. As I have already pointed out, this thinking is misguided, and no doubt emanates from the emotional assessment of the public support that the DPP and Professor Mutharika seems to be enjoying on whistle-stop tours and in other public arenas.
Although I do not deny that the DPP is indeed enjoying considerable support, it is important to remember that if Mutharika contests the elections without anything new or radical to challenge current opinion, he will be running against MCP and other contestants that have on their side the strong argument of Mutharika’s performance failures and the determination to show that the DPP is corrupt and has failed to keep its 2014 promises.
Given that particular reality, sober honest and fearless analysis and suggestions must not be avoided. Tough decisions will need to be confronted head on and made with a certain ruthlessness.
This past week, former First Lady Callista Mutharika has come out strongly in support of Vice President Saulosi Chilima as an important presidential candidate for the DPP and Malawi to consider. Hers is not the only voice.
Sober-minded DPP followers need to consider this option seriously. Malawi is watching. And waiting.